Small Packages

I have always loved tiny things. As I child, I was not only the caretaker of the aforementioned tiny green alligators, but also myriad other tiny plastic animals, old-school metal matchbox trucks (yes, trucks–I don’t think I had any cars at all) a ramshackle dollhouse (built by my mother at half-inch scale, making it even smaller than other dollhouses), and innumerable random small things–woven baskets, wooden ducks, teeny-weeny shells, etc.

Even if nearly all of the ones I owned as a child have disappeared into the ether, I still love tiny things. These days, though, I coo over tiny, perfectly constructed foodstuffs. It grew, I’m sure, out of the tea parties that my best friend and I used to have. Given that we started having them when we were both nearly 18, these were real tea parties, with actual tea and delicate miniature fingerfoods. I don’t think that I ever prepared the ubiquitously expected tea sandwiches, but I made a lot of miniature scones, jelly-tots and comfits. When I wanted something savory, I went for miniature quiches, made in muffin tins, sometimes even mini-muffin tins.

It was only last year that I discovered the perfect tiny savory, though, far too late for my high school tea parties. This paragon? The fritter.

Well. Not really. The recipe title called them fritters, but given that they’re neither deep-fried nor breaded, I don’t know if they can truly be considered anything of the kind. The original recipe was for corn fritters and simply called for beating two egg whites until stiff, then whisking the two egg yolks until smooth and creamy, stirring in a cup of fresh corn kernels along with some salt, pepper and maybe a little herbage if necessary, then folding the egg whites into the corn mixture. Drop by tablespoons-full into a nonstick pan sprayed with oil and saute until browned. Voila–the ersatz fritter.

Simple as they were, those corn fritters were really very good. The result was much more like a silver dollar pancake than a true fritter, but the poppable morsels were light in texture and suffused with the flavor of corn–anyone who objects to ‘eggy’ flavors wouldn’t have been able to muster a single complaint. For a few months after I made them first, pick-a-vegetable fritters appeared at any or all meals of the day; eventually I even branched out into sweetened fritters with fruit–blueberry and apple were my two favorite variations.

Fritter-mania lasted the length of the summer and a short way into autumn, but when the temperatures started falling my cravings inclined towards heartier fare. I hadn’t thought about those pseudo-fritters in months until last week, when I saw a recipe in a newspaper food section for crab, corn and red bell pepper fritters. The recipe was for a real fritter–deep fried and coated in dry breadcrumbs, the internal ingredients bound together with flour, with the final result, if the picture was to be believed, looking like a lumpy hush puppy.

This was less than appealing. The combination of flavors, though, caught my imagination–crab, red bell peppers and corn are all sweet, but their sweetness is different enough that I didn’t think any of the three would overwhelm the others or be so sweet that the whole would be cloying. Contemplating the word ‘fritter,’ my mind flew back to the un-fritters of last summer, and a plan was formed.

For a solo dinner on Thursday night I whipped up an egg white, creamed its egg yolk, then stirred in crab, fresh corn kernels, diced red bell pepper, a chopped scallion, salt and some pepper. I folded in the egg white carefully, but it deflated a bit when confronted with the quantity of filling; the final mixture was still fluffy, though. I added a bit of canola oil to my biggest nonstick skillet, and, when the oil was hot, dropped in diminutive spoonfuls. After about 7 minutes (flipping halfway through) the tiny cakes were entirely golden and caramelized on their flattest sides. I slid them out onto a plate and, armed with a fork, ferried the lot into the dining room for immediate consumption.

As I had thought, the combination of corn, bell pepper and crab was inspired. I had prepared a vaguely Asian dipping sauce to dunk the fritters in, but ended up neglecting it entirely, so much did I love the flavor of the fritters on their own. The natural sugars in the bell pepper increased the amount of caramelization, the sharpness and crunchiness of the scallion contrasted beautifully with the crab, both in texture and flavor, and the corn added bursts of mellow sweetness in the midst of everything else. It was a thoroughly satisfying meal, in spite of its lightness. I have no plans to make this particular variety of fritter in the near future (the farmer’s market is too full of exciting things to repeat a recipe), but its deliciousness was a reminder of how good the little pseudo-fritters can be. I have no doubt that some new vegetable fill find itself fritterized some day soon. I can only hope the resulting morsels will be as toothsome as these were.

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Published in: on June 9, 2007 at 7:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

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